“Yeah,” they said, squirming beneath the comforter.
“Alright.” The room was gray, illuminated by a solitary lamp. “This might be scary.”
“We’re never scared,” the elder said.
I twined my fingers behind my head and started: “Once upon a time—”
“Once upon a time,” the younger parroted.
“If I tell a story, you have to listen. Understand? No more interrupting.”
“Good.” I shifted into storytelling mode. “Once upon a time, there lived two girls.”
“Regan and Ellis,” the elder shouted.
“That’s right,” I said. “One day, while playing in the backyard—”
“Dragon,” the younger said.
“No, not a dragon. Don’t interrupt. One day, while playing in the backyard, they found something, something special. Do you know what it was?”
They shook their heads.
“A box,” I said.
The younger scrunched her eyebrows. Confused by the path on which this story was hurtling.
“But not any box,” I said, before she could voice her objections. “It was a magical box.”
“What was in it?” the elder asked.
“Why don’t you stop talking and let me tell you.”
“Alright then.” I composed myself. “It was dark and glowing—”
“Scary,” the younger said.
“Seriously, let me get through this.”
“It was dark and glowing. Both were scared. Regan, however, knew that if a magical box appeared in their backyard, then they simply couldn’t ignore it. For, obviously, it was a receptacle of great significance, carved with all kinds looping and pagan symbols.”
“Uh…I mean, pretty.”
“Regan, then, reached out with great care and slowly pried back the lid.”
“What was in it?” the elder asked with wide, glowing eyes.
“A key, ornate and wooden.”
“What’s ‘ornate?’” the elder asked.
“Never mind that. It was special…special and wooden. But it wasn’t alone. Tucked beneath the key was a note, handwritten.”
“What did it say?”
“It read: Dear Girls, If you are reading this, then I’m already dead.”
“Benjamin!” my wife roared from the living room.
“Alright, alright,” I yelled back before starting again. “If you are reading this, then the Rainbow of All Encompassing Blackness has already spread throughout our land. We tried to stop it, but we failed. We, the Butterflies of Butterland, need you. We have given you the key. Find the Tree Beneath the Sun for it will lead you to the Stairwell of the Red-Red Phoenix. Fit the key and enter.”
“Did they?” the elder asked.
“Yes, yes they did. And the key was true. Actually, it was Ellis who slid the key into the tree’s lock, turned it, and watched as the bark door creaked open. Inside, silver and overgrown, were shimmering spider webs—”
“Scary,” the younger interjected.
“Inside,” I corrected, “a golden light was streaming upon a stairway leading towards the sky. It was the Stairwell of the Red-Red Phoenix as once recounted in, The Grim and the Bold, written by the Grand Marquess of Nim.”
“The Grand Marquess of Nim,” I said.
“Oh,” the elder said. “What happened next?”
“Well…for that, you’ll have to wait. For all adventurers, and eyes, must rest. It’s time for bed.”
“But I don’t want to sleep. I want to know about the Stairwell of the Red-Red Phoenix.”
“Fine,” the elder yawned.
I stood up, kissed both girls on the forehead, and flipped off the light. As I shut the door, I heard the hum of a whisper: “Scary.”